Mentoring critical to leadership development, author says

"Mentoring is not a flavor of the month," said Lois J. Zachary, author of the new "The Mentor's Guide; Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships."

Rather, more companies and organizations are realizing that it is necessary to train future leaders, and therefore it is in their best interest to offer mentorship programs to their employees.

In addition to her profession as a specialist in adult development and learning, Zachary, who is based in Phoenix, has years of experience working in the Jewish community. She has served on the board of JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America) for 14 years, and is on the board of Agenda Jewish Education, a magazine for Jewish education professionals. She is also a former president of her synagogue.

She believes her work in training future leaders is part of l'dor v'dor, "from generation to generation," and has helped develop mentoring programs for many Jewish organizations, including federations.

"We're continuing to build a Jewish community that enables us to rise to our own potential," she said. "By …doing that, you enrich a community.

"We have to motivate, instill, inspire and prepare people to be leaders."

What Zachary does is build a mentoring program specifically tailored to a company's individual needs. "The key is not to just build a program but to align it with the mission and purpose of the organization," she said. "It should be a part of the way they do business."

Leadership development as a concept is only coming into vogue now, she said, and many companies haven't taken it seriously enough. But they should, and the reasons are many.

Skills learned through a mentoring relationship can be applied in one's personal relationships.

Mentoring benefits the mentor in providing her with satisfaction, and she sees growth and development in herself as a mentor.

Mentoring benefits the protégé by giving her "new, diverse perspectives and new approaches and ways of doing things."

Mentoring benefits the organization as a whole. It is the rare person that cannot benefit from such a relationship, she believes. "The best mentors are 'mentees' themselves," she said. And in both cases, the relationship must be driven by the protégé's learning goals.

Furthermore, while the mentor can gain from being a protégé, mentors should be properly trained. All too often, she warned, mentors have the best of intentions, but that's far from adequate.

"Good intention is not enough to facilitate effective learning in a mentoring relationship," she writes in her preface. "Mentors who become students of their own experience use reflection to inform what it is they do and how they do it. In reflecting on their experience, they learn something about themselves and as a result are better prepared to facilitate effective learning relationships."

All mentoring relationships go through four phases, Zachary said, using the popular book by Mitch Albom "Tuesdays with Morrie" as an example. And she outlines her book with chapters on each: "Preparing," "Negotiating," "Enabling" and "Coming to Closure."

Zachary — whose maiden name was Menter — works a lot with corporate women, she said, because men don't need the same kind of support system that women do.

"Women are hungry for connection and attachment. I see fewer women than men at the top, and they provide a safe haven for each other, in that they face similar issues."

Organizations are beginning to see mentoring as career development, and rightfully so, Zachary said. In her experience, younger people just entering the job market are more likely to go to a company that offers a mentorship program than one that does not, because they know that having such guidance is likely to help them get ahead.

"Mentorship is really the linchpin of or key to an organization's success," she said. "It should be one way an organization does business."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."